Art Unboxed

Art Unboxed The Art Of Smearing

As a kid, or even as an adult, I never liked smearing when trying to draw. I was also not fond of smearing when first starting painting with both acrylic and watercolor. What I did not know then, that I’m thankful to know now, is that smearing can be a wonderful tool to use.

This can be utilized in two beneficial ways. The first is as part of the foundation of your drawing. This technique has been used by oil painters, pencil artists, and watercolorists for a number of years. It’s a way of giving something that “painterly” look.

This is a phrase you’ll hear in art often. There are more than one definition of painterly, but in realism when I’ve heard it used, they’re essentially saying something like this. I want it to look like a boat, but a painted boat, not a photograph. By this artists mean they want it be recognizable but stand out as a painting, not be mistaken for an exact copy of the object.

Sometimes achieving this, especially for beginning artists, can be hard. That’s where smearing can help. Smearing before you even draw the object can give some loose and random marks that enhance the object you will draw or paint. This isn’t necessarily what you would do on your preliminary sketch, but it would be a good technique when you begin your primary piece.

The second use of smearing is in the middle of your painting or drawing. While I’ve done it in ink and pencil, I’ve found it works lends itself easily to painting. Some artists will draw their boat, then take a paper towel and blur several areas. After this, they’ll add some detail back, but leave out others. The result is a boat, but a painterly version of a boat.

With watercolor, in certain areas in the middle of a painting, wet on wet can be used in the composition to add effect. Smearing takes practice in knowing how far to go and when, but it is a very powerful tool in an artist’s toolbox. With watercolor a variation of smearing is splattering, which occurs typically at the end of a watercolor, though I have used it before the painting too. The random dots in a somewhat controlled manner, or confined area, can enhance a painting greatly.

I suspect the reason that smearing is overlooked in the beginning of an artist’s journey, or at least in mine, could be for two reasons. One I didn’t really understand it, as I didn’t want to be an abstract painter, but it’s not about that. Smearing is about adding interest to a painting. The other reason I believe I overlooked it was that it seems too easy and too simple.

What I hadn’t considered is, so is the line in a drawing. Simple doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Learning the alphabet is simple, but the first step a novelist took to writing their novel was learning to write their letters. Often the simplest solutions are the best ones, and the simplest tools can build the most complex projects.

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